Week 2 SEC Preview: Nationally and Regionally, SEC Takes Center Stage

Open Thread posts Saturday at 11 a.m. ET / 10 a.m. CT

16 PENN STATE at 1 ALABAMA / 7 p.m. ET / ESPN

The Nittany Lions and QB Rob Bolden looked solid in a shellacking of Youngstown State last week -- but it is Youngstown State we're talking about. This will be Bolden's first road test against a BCS-league team, much less the defending reining national champions, and you have to wonder about how steep the learning curve will be. We can safety assume that Nick Saban will try rather early to answer that question for himself.

Alabama similarly had no problem defeating San Jose State in their home opener, clearing the deck for the day's biggest interconference game. Despite being without Mark Ingram, the Tide rushed for 257 yards against SJSU. That should be an encouraging development for Alabama fans; Alabama will likely still be without Ingram when the Nittany Lions come to town. What will be interesting, though, is whether the Alabama running backs and the rest of the offense can repeat their efforts from a week ago. Julio Jones, in particular, had a good first game after last year's sophomore slump.

Still, I'm not sure that Penn State can keep up with Alabama offensively. Penn State's numbers aren't as eye-popping as the Tide's, even though Alabama played a slightly tougher opponent, and Tuscaloosa isn't an ideal spot for your first visit in any season. Particularly not this season.

Alabama 34, Penn State 17

17 GEORGIA at 23 SOUTH CAROLINA / 12 p.m. ET / ESPN2

I went back and forth on whether to place this game first or second in the preview, for the very simple reason that it will have a sizable impact on the race for the SEC East. The team that wins this game will become the de facto No. 2 team in the division and the next in line to be the front runner if Florida's Week 1 showing wasn't a fluke. Alabama might be the big national game of the week, but this is the most important intraconference contest on the slate.

Both of these teams looked impressive in their debut against midmajors, South Carolina waxing C-USA contender Southern Miss and Georgia leveling Louisiana-Lafayette. But here's something that surprised me slightly when I looked at the numbers: While both teams saw a gap between their total offense and scoring offense numbers, it was a yawning one for Georgia, ranked 63rd in total offense but seventh in scoring offense. Part of that is sample size, sure, but it's worth wondering whether the real Georgia offense is the one that scored 55 points or the one that posted a more average 377 yards. South Carolina was the 29th-ranked scoring offense with 41 points and the 39th-ranked total offense with 449 yards. That's a bit more within reason.

Then again, the 128 yards Georgia allowed to ULL were better than the 404 Southern Miss rang up against South Carolina, even accounting for the strength of opposition. Part of that is because of the garbage time yards that the Golden Eagles piled up as a competent if overmatched opponent, but ULL also had plenty of garbage time against Georgia, and that didn't seem to help. It will take some work, though, to convince people that Georgia will have a great defense this year. And having seen what happened when I went against my preseason pick in the Auburn-Mississippi State game (and was wrong wrong wrong), I'll stay with the pick I made over the summer.

South Carolina 24, Georgia 20

6 OREGON at TENNESSEE / 7 p.m. ET / ESPN2

No, Tennessee, that's not Taps you hear playing in the background. Why do you ask? Because there's no reason to be worried about the 720 yards of offense that Oregon piled up against New Mexico. To be concerned about the 72 points that resulted from that yardage. To be wary of the fact that Oregon is ranked 106th in net punting after the first game -- because they did not punt.

Or maybe there is. Sure, Tennessee also blasted its cupcake, but its cupcake was an FCS team, and New Mexico was an FBS team -- even if it went 1-11 last year. And the 72 points was the most any team has scored against the Lobos since at least 2000. (The NCAA online archives only go back to 2001, and when you start talking in decades the point is proven anyway.) It will take more than good hygiene to defeat the Ducks.

But maybe that isn't really the goal this week. Though I suspect that Derek Dooley would never admit it, this might very well be the 2010 Lane Kiffin Memorial Moral Victory Game. If Tennessee can hold Oregon to fewer than 45 points and the Vols can score more than 20, that should be a success. Mission accomplished on the latter. Not so much on the former point.

Oregon 52, Tennessee 24

19 LSU at VANDERBILT / 7 p.m. ET / ESPNU

What an odd pairing for this weekend. Vanderbilt is the team that almost defeated Northwestern but ended up losing after a just plain dumb Penn Wagers-esque questionable personal-foul call in the final minutes. LSU starred in last week's dramatic fail-a-thon with North Carolina and has spent the last several days trying to convince us all that it really wasn't all that bad.

So who knows what the mental state of either of these teams will be when it kicks off. By all rights, Vanderbilt should be out of the game by the third quarter, but we know by now that that isn't how post-2007 Les Miles rolls. He likes to keep things interesting, if for no other reason than it keeps his head in the game, and we all know what happens when his head isn't in the game. (See: Ole Miss, 2009)

But I still have trouble seeing any way Vanderbilt wins this game unless the referees decide to ditch football altogether and award points based on which coach can fertilize the most turkey eggs. WITH SEC OFFICIALS, THIS IS POSSIBLE, but probably highly unlikely. I think.

LSU 34, Vanderbilt 21

SOUTH FLORIDA at 9 FLORIDA / 12:21 p.m. ET / The SEC Network

To some degree, I'm disappointed that I'm going to miss this game. This is a key test for Florida after the Great Snapping of 2010 -- not because anyone honestly thinks Florida is the team that we saw last week, but because we will get to see the Gators play a decent Big East team, which should give us some indication of how good they actually are. And if you see John Brantley spending most of his day sprinting backwards to catch up with the ball, that is a sign that Urban Meyer should have taken a longer leave of absence for the sake of his health.

South Florida has been one of the most erratic teams in the country the last few years, the kind of team in 2009 that could lose to Pittsburgh by 27, defeat West Virginia by 11 and then lose to Rutgers by 31 -- in consecutive weeks. Former head coach Jim Leavitt is gone, replaced by former East Carolina head coach Skip Holtz. I'm not even going to talk about their opening week game, because even Jeremy Fowler Foley would not be so bold as to schedule Stony Brook.

That said, B.J. Daniels is a dangerous dual-threat quarterback, and Holtz comes to South Florida after having turned ECU into something of a Conference USA powerhouse. I was critical of Holtz during his time as offensive coordinator in South Carolina, but I think I might have misdirected the blame. Holtz will be a good coach for USF one of these days, and might even win one of these games -- just not Saturday's.

Florida 54, South Florida 27

20 ARKANSAS vs. LOUISIANA-MONROE / 7 p.m. ET / FS South

You might remember the last time these two teams played, but not for any of the reasons Arkansas would like you to. Bobby Petrino's first Arkansas team needed a 14-point fourth-quarter rally to defeat Louisiana-Monroe by one, despite having outgained the Warhawks by 165 yards. This was less than a year after ULM defeated Alabama in Nick Saban's first season. Don't let that make you think that the Warhawks, who have yet to play a game this year, are all that good. And don't expect a game as entertaining as the last one.

Arkansas 52, Louisiana-Monroe 13

WESTERN KENTUCKY at KENTUCKY / 7:30 p.m. ET / CSS

The Hilltoppers are in the middle of a 21-game losing streak, with the only thing worth watching potentially being Bobby Rainey, who rushed for 155 yards in last week's game against Nebraska. He ranks eighth nationwide with that total, which is better than any of the statistical rankings of the team as a whole. Put another way: Western Kentucky is a bad team in their conference -- the Sun Belt. So there's at least one proud Kentucky tradition Joker Phillips has carried on, and that's the scheduling model. But it works, giving him his second win as head coach.

Kentucky 49, Western Kentucky 0

OLE MISS at TULANE / 9 p.m. ET / ESPN Classic

I really have no idea what to think about this game. On the one hand, Ole Miss is probably -- hopefully -- going to be angry coming into this game, and angry teams can be dangerous. On the other hand, Tulane actually defeated an FCS team last week, which is more than you can say for the Rebels. Not very convincingly, mind you; the Green Wave generated 252 yards of total offense and were actually outgained by 14 yards. So we'll say the statistics return to normal this week -- sort of.

Ole Miss 25, Tulane 18

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